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August 26th 2018 print

Peter O'Brien

One Word: Paris

If Scott Morrison PM can't see how carbonphobia is hurting Australia and wrecking the party he now leads, further voter desertions and electoral carnage are guaranteed. Yes, he's preferable to his predecessor, but that's not saying much -- especially if current energy policy isn't repudiated

scomo iiiWell Malcolm Turnbull is gone, the blow to that monumental ego perhaps somewhat mitigated by the martyr’s canonisation being bestowed beneath the bylines of left-wing pundits who would never vote for him in a month of Sundays. He once famously vowed he wouldn’t “lead a party that’s not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”.  By ‘effective’ he meant, as Humpty Dumpty told Alice, whatever he wanted the word to mean. To Australians dreading their next power bills, the word translates as ‘cold homes and economy-destroying imposts’. It took a while but the party eventually and narrowly took him at his word and forced him to make good on that threat/promise. Full disclosure: I wanted Dutton to be the outcome of this process, for all the reasons outlined at Quadrant Online late last week.  But it was not to be.  So let me indulge in what is, admittedly, the lament of someone who has come reluctantly to accept that half a loaf is indeed better than none.

The myth now being sown and copiously fertilised by the effusions of Turnbull’s ABC and Fairfax admirers is that he was a colossus torn down by a party that never wanted him in their midst.  The more ardent keyboard-ticklers seem almost to be suggesting that the Liberal Party, unworthy of such a leader, had failed him The irony, revealed most tellingly by Graeme Richardson, is that he had to direct his upward gaze via the party of Menzies because Labor wouldn’t have a bar of him. Labor has inflicted gross damage on Australia at various times, but such an appraisal indicates they are not entirely lacking in wits. As for the commentariat’s current line, that is hardly a surprise. It was their paeans that helped to persuade the Liberal party room in 2015 that this leather-jacketed wonder of a man was their natural-born leader.  That and their campaign of endless abuse of Tony Abbott, of course.

Let me review events through the prism of Niki Savva’s perceptions.  A cultish representative of the pro-Turnbull media claque, in The Weekend Australian she notes:

Malcolm Turnbull’s coup against Tony Abbott in 2015 was an elaborate, surgical strike. It took months to plan and was executed in a matter of hours to remove a prime minister who by his own hand and the actions of his chief of staff had become electoral poison.

Her thesis seems be that because Turnbull’s coup was well planned and executed it was excusable, at least in hindsight. But are Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin really ‘electoral poison’?  There’s no denying the pair stoked animosities within the party room. Why else, for example, might Bronwyn Bishop have backed Turnbull’s putsch when Point Piper’s dauphin had explicitly criticised and humilated her during the chartered-helicopter fiasco? Abbott, if you recall, stood by Bishop, which made her a further cudgel with which to strike at his then-leader. But how does ruffling the egoes of Coalition colleagues make you ‘electoral poison’ to the general voting population? Abbott, never popular in terms of personal approval, had pulled off a near miracle in 2010 before romping to a handy majority three years later. Ah, that’s right, it was those 30 negative Newspolls which doomed Abbott and gave Turnbull his licence to nobble. Somehow, though, when his own tally reached 38 negative polls, by Savva’s estimate he yet remained the best man to lead both party and nation.

According to Savva, groping for distinctions, this latest coup is inexcusable because it was messy.  She relates ‘threats from the Dutton camp against MPs’, also charging that ‘senators were told they would lose their pre-selections and others were threatened with the revelation of damaging personal information’. What a busy, devious and blackmailing boy Dutton must have made of himself in the space of only 48 hours! Do these tactics seem like something a sane would-be leader with hopes of political longevity might employ? Or do they better match an incumbent prepared shutter parliament in order to avoid Question Time and then shred convention by demanding 43 signatures on a letter  intended to initiate a secret ballot? If that isn’t blackmail, what is?

Turnbull’s sly moves to dodge the exterminator made the mess Savva bemoans even messier. Stephen Conroy nailed it when, referring to that first spill the too-smart-by-half incumbent sprang on the party room, the ex-Labor minister quipped how “Turnbull put a gun to his head and blew his brains out”. They’ll be wiping the blood and tissue off the Liberal party room for quite some time to come – and those efforts aren’t likely to be aided by the re-shuffled cabinet Morrison announced late on Sunday afternoon. Abbott remains in the leprosarium, which won’t impress his ‘delcon’ admirers, while Turnbull era Black Handers are mostly retained and rewarded. Pollster Mark Textor confidently predicted that the traditional base didn’t matter because, dislike Turnbull as they might, there was nowhere else for them to go. The new cabinet and prime minister may well draw back some of that lost support — those whose loathing of Turnbull was visceral and primary — but it won’t dissuade others contemplating moving their votes to alternative parties.

It also should be remembered that Dutton did not bring on this crisis. A strong Abbott supporter, he loyally served his most recent leader for almost three years, even he as he watched the negative Newspolls heading toward 40.  By all accounts he had been urged by supporters to move against Turnbull since the Longman byelection. Even after the NEG debacle, he is said to have been torn about challenging (I admit I’m not sure how much of this hesitation was occasioned by principle and how much by timing). In the end, in one of his last follies, Turnbull brought it on by trying to flush Dutton’s supporters out with the pre-emptive strike of that first spill. One gathers he grossly underestimated his internal opposition, which emboldened demands for the second spill that finally and mercifully brought him undone for good.

It was the unwillingness of the party to follow Turnbull into oblivion on the basis of that ‘effective action on climate change’ which precipitated the crisis at this time. In putting up the NEG, then recasting it and finally repudiating it, Turnbull tested the willingness of the party to play Thelma to his Louise as he raced toward climate policy’s cliff.

It was the challenge of the party’s climate realists that prompted Turnbull to throw down gauntlet.  He believed he would win convincingly, threw dice and lost. Out of all this mess, Dutton, at least, has nothing to be ashamed of.

And Morrison? He would not have been my choice, just as he was rejected by almost half his colleagues at the second spill, but it has to be admitted that he is immeasurably better than the man he replaced.  If he is serious about bringing his party together the first thing he must do is repudiate the Paris accords. The composition of his new cabinet, however, suggests this must remain a muted hope, at least for now.

If the Liberal Party is to survive it must demonstrate that it is up for a fight against Labor. In other words, it has to stand for something practical and worthwhile and, in doing so, give voters a clear choice. Paris, the way it inflates power bills and the catastropharian nonsense that goes with it, this is the fundamental issue. If Scott Morrison PM can’t see that carbonmania is hurting Australia and wrecking the party he now leads, voter desertions and electoral carnage are guaranteed.

Comments [28]

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    One useful role for Turnbull would be a return to the republican movement. I’ve always believed that it was he who single-handedly persuaded a majority of voters in a majority of states to reject the republican proposition last time, something for which we should always be profoundly grateful. While I think that Peter FitzSimons shares Turnbull’s essential traits and would, on his own, be nearly as effective in any future referendum, the return of Turnbull to the republican cause should settle the argument in the monarchists’ favour beyond doubt for at least another generation or so. I think we should give credit where due. I, for one, will always be grateful to him for that.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Possibly. We had and have two sorts of republicans – those who (like Trumble) realise that electing a president politicizes the position to unacceptable degree; and those who realise that an unelected president is a farce. Whenever those groups talk, the smarter people present will realise that both statements are correct, and becomes monarchists.

  2. en passant says:

    Peter & Thomas,
    I am a Republican who voted against turning Oz into a Republic as the thought of ‘President for Life Turnbull’ was too much for me. King Charles was easier on my stomach.

    Having just looked at the totality of the new Cabinet of Clowns, replacing my previous {and insufficiently} derogatory Ministry of the Damned & Damnable I reiterate that I cannot vote for the ScoMo Liberals while there are genuine anarchist, motoring, animal rights and independents on the ballot papers. So that places them still above the Greens, but below ON, ACM, ALA, ALC, CCA, LDP, FF, Katter’s Klownfish, NP, DLP, ILP, Uncle Tom Cobbly (Independent) and any Organised Crime candidates. Pyne, Payne, Hunt and Frydenberg standout as the Climate old guard. Ad to that The Australian report that our very own Manchurian Candidate worked the phones for Morrison to ensure his ascent as MiniMi Turnbull. Hey GUYS! What is it with the afflicted name ‘Morrison’?

  3. Doubting Thomas says:

    Yes, the one compelling argument against an Australian Republic for me is that, as with the US Presidency, at least 50% of the population is likely to detest any current incumbent, regardless of how appointed, but especially so if the President is elected, as seems to be the only system likely to be supported by the masses.

    The Morrison ministry is every bit as uninspiring as Turnbull’s, and the idea of Pyne as Minister for Defence simply boggles my mind. God help us all.

    • LBLoveday says:

      This author of this, imo excellent, article Turning our Sheepdogs into Poodles wrote “With the election of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, the hope is that he will make the needed strategic change by putting in place a strong Defence Minister that understands and upholds the unique role of our warriors.
      He must be one very disappointed former ADF member now he knows Pyne’s the poodle in charge.

  4. SJones says:

    Peter Smith, you have eloquently portrayed my feelings (and the feelings of many I would think), God bless you. I feel cleansed in a sense, after reading your summary of events. You tidily tell the story, including every important point and player, leaving nothing and no-one out. The comments so far are also balm for this battered psyche. What a week! What a 3 year period! Turnbull gone! Thanks again Peter.

  5. Peter OBrien says:

    At the risk of labouring the point, Turnbull developed a new election winning strategy viz emasculate his signature policy and then dump it. Then, rather than wait to see how his colleagues would receive this concession (and there were quite a few who were making conciliatory noises) he decided to go for the kill. After all the turmoil I was stunned when the spill motion got up by only 45 to 40, at which point I knew it was over for Dutton. But why so close? I can only conclude that a considerable number of members voted against the spill on the principle (for want of a better word) of not voting against a sitting PM. I know of at least one whom I’m almost certain voted on this basis. So I think Turnbull can take cold comfort from this result. The irony is, had he not thrown down the challenge and exposed how vulnerable he really was, we’d probably still be stick with him. So, in the end, thank God for his lack of political smarts.

  6. Jody says:

    Whatever you say about Turnbull and his political instincts he behaved with dignity and aplomb last Friday; a noble contrast to the blubbering narcissistic Rudd and ‘victimized’ Gillard. As my sister observed, ‘he’s been surrounded his whole life by idiots and this isn’t any difference; he can retire in magnificent wealth and privilege”. Bingo.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Trashing the convention that only two signatures are needed for a party room meeting and then insisting on verifying the 43 signatures he eventually got, doesn’t strike me as acting with dignity and aplomb. It strikes me as supreme arrogance and contempt from a man who had already demonstrably lost the support of a large number of his ‘team’. Siccing the Solicitor General onto his main rival over an issue that he had been quite comfortable with for 3 years, while Dutton was useful to him, seems more like street fighting to me.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      I think you and your sister seem to be in a tiny minority. The overwhelming impression of people I know was that he had behaved disgracefully at all stages of this farce, and most disgracefully in his “valedictory” press conference where he blamed everyone but himself. This from the man who knifed Abbott after relentless campaign of spiteful disloyalty from within Cabinet. The only idiots he’s been “surrounded” by are those he chose himself. There was a famously apt remark by Neville Wran talking about his experience in the leadership group of, iirc, the then new Macquarie Bank, which included Nick Whitlam, Wran and Turnbull. Wran said that his (Wran’s) was the smallest ego in the room.

      I’m afraid that you and I have vastly different points of reference in our judgement of character.

    • madd320 says:

      Jody, me think you speak with forked tongue. Didn’t you excite us all last week by saying you were off, never to darken this site again. Oh how our hearts sang. But it looks like it was all for nought, cos here you are the very next working day, haunting these pages again with your venom. What happened?

  7. oldsailor says:

    “The best is the enemy of the good” seems to me a theme of Peter’s article and the comments; that, and a call for the instant remedy for all the nation’s ills; ills which have been growing for a generation or more.
    On balance, it seems to me that “ScoMo” has made a pretty fair start, in particular his identifying the drought as the major current problem.
    WRT to the Ministry, the PM can only assign the cattle he owns to the most suitable paddocks, many of which are very rocky, weed bound, and with plenty of mines left over from the recent wars. He might have time and resources for changing a few fence alignments, but not much else. The mines will take both time and effort.
    I give him a pretty high mark, with the major fail being Pyne in Defence. Why not Senator Molan? Porter as Energy Minister is the best fit in years, and I expect Frydenburg to be much more comfortable in the Treasury. Payne can’t do much damage if the cheque book has a limit put on it.
    And BTW, Ms Bishop’s departure gives a safe path for the admirable Matthias Cormann into the House.
    Expect the polls to rise strongly soon.

    • whitelaughter says:

      I would add the invite to Trump to the plus column. But Payne is very definitely going to cause damage in such a high profile dept – the dimwit who trashed defence morale on the world stage? Disastrous. While putting Pyne, whose seat has been bought with that wretched submarine fiasco in charge of defence is a cocktail of different forms of incompetence.
      (Pyne and Payne; maybe we should be nicknaming them ‘the paynfull pair’).

      The only bright point in the Gillard fiasco was that Krudd having been PM made him more effective in foreign affairs; knowing that they were talking to someone who was a power in his own right gave him an edge when dealing with foreign heads. With *two* ex-PMs to chose from, Morrison screwed up badly on this one.

  8. Peter OBrien says:

    The reaction of the more committed Turnbull supporters has been curious to say the least. “Ha ha’, they say ‘Malcolm won. Dutton didn’t get up and Abbott didn’t get his old job back’. Yes, Malcolm won this bout in the same sense that he ‘won’ the 2016 election. And by the way, Abbott is still there and, courtesy of Morrison’s envoy offer, possibly on the way back.

  9. Peter OBrien says:

    Further to my last, Abbott confirms he will remain in Parliament after the next election. Abbott finished? Not quite yet, Niki.

  10. mags of Queensland says:

    One can only hope that Scott Morrison has the guts to get rid of all those stupid policies that have damaged the Liberal party and the government for the past two years. The Party cannot survive without its members as was seen at the last election. It’s past time that politicians realized that they don’t get themselves elected, the members do. And that one seat majority came from the nationals, not the Liberals.

    The retention of Pyne, Payne, Fifield and Birmingham – four of the worst performers,next to Big Mal himself – just reinforces the dead hand of MT still in the mix.

    I listened to Tony Abbott this morning on 2GB and came to the conclusion that he wants a REAL job, not some sop thrown because Morrison thinks that will appease him. Tony Abbott provided the message for the government but Turnbull and his mates were too stupid to take them up and thus landed in this pile of doggy do. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks before Parliament sits again.

    • Lo says:

      I did not hear Tony Abbott this morning but I am hoping he doesn’t accept this lukewarm envoy offer. What arrant fools, to ignore such available talent.

      • Peter OBrien says:

        Iagree. To take on anything that might smack of indigenous recognition would be a really dumb idea. Attack dog on energy and getting out of Paris would be just the ticket

    • Jody says:

      He’s a sad old man; a refugee out of Shakespearean tragedy. Fact is, there’s just not much else in his life. I repeat:

      Last night upon the stair,
      I met a man who wasn’t there;
      He wasn’t there again today,
      I wish that man would go away.

      TONY ABBOTT.

  11. oldsailor says:

    I think (hope?) there is a lot more to our new PM than meets the eye. I expect him to call the election on the last possible date (> eight months away). This should allow a smallish reshuffle before Christmas. I’ll stick with my view that he has his first XI covering the present political minefields. Re Abbott, I can’t see him in a formal role unless/until the good guys win the election.

  12. Davidovich says:

    On the 24th of August 2018, the entity known as Jody wrote in Quadrant “No more “Quadrant” for me and no more rants from Rowen Dean and Peta Credlin. Begone!!”. If only this entity meant what it said!

  13. I put 29 murderers behind bars. You do the crime, you do the time. The liberal party has murdered Australia for 3 years. I sentence the “liberals” to three years exile.

  14. Jody says:

    I make this bet today: Shorten and his bogans are DUST with this new kid Morrison on the block. Likeable, genuine and adept, Morrison will see his opponents off at the next election. Who needs class warriors and 19th century unionists running this country of ours? ScoMo wins the day!! You can smell the fear in Shorten as he embarks on an advertizing campaign to trash Morrison. As Credlin once said, you can spend a fortune on advertizing but if the Coalition has the message right the people will move over to them. Go ScoMo.